People experience poverty when they lack economic, social and cultural resources to have a quality of life that sustains and facilitates full and meaningful participation in the community. In addition to reducing access to resources, experiencing poverty affects health, education, housing, and mental health (Multidimensional Poverty Peer Network, 2021)
An economy for all provides everyone opportunities to participate, be included in decisions in economic systems, and equally distributes the harms and benefits of economic activity across society (Munro, 2002).
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted everyone, but it makes life more challenging for people living in poverty. Inequities in employment, income and housing continue to increase. In 2019, there were approximately 1,500 people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton. Currently, there are 2,800. (Homeward Trust Edmonton, 2021). These numbers indicate that more people cannot meet their basic needs, and life has become more challenging for people living in poverty. This pattern may worsen if economic recovery does not include people living in poverty. When thinking about economic recovery, policymakers, businesses, and communities need to decide how to address the impacts of COVID-19 for people living in poverty. While pandemic has highlighted the effects of inequity, it also provides an opportunity for significant change. Through a well-designed and implemented economic recovery, the economy can be reformed to work for everyone.
Governments, businesses, and policy advocates have already started implementing recovery strategies that focus mainly on job creation and business. While necessary for recovery, these plans lack strategies to address poverty. In contrast, anti-poverty initiatives and advocacy organizations have developed poverty-focussed recovery plans with outcomes such as good jobs with livable incomes, access to affordable childcare, and the collection of disaggregated or race-based data.
At the Community-University Partnership at the University of Alberta, we are studying strategies employed by anti-poverty initiatives and advocates to promote economic recovery for all. The project has two components: 1) a comprehensive review and analysis of recovery plans with an anti-poverty lens and 2) interviews with key informants and community experts to identify successes and challenges in centring and addressing poverty in post-COVID economic recovery. So far, we have found that recovery strategies should target the pandemic's social, economic, and health effects.
Economic Recovery Strategies
COVID-19 impacts the economic well-being of people living in poverty for several reasons.. First, poverty rates have increased during the COVID-19 crisis, compounding the effect of COVID-19 for this group. Second, people experiencing poverty often work in precarious and low-wage work with limited government protections (i.e., employment insurance) or employment benefits (i.e., sick leave) (MacDonald, 2020). Moving toward an equitable economic recovery requires addressing the economic effects of the public health crisis. Therefore, recovery plans should prioritize:
Invest in decent work. Decent work provides a livable income, eligibility for government benefits and adequate working conditions (Sultana, & Ravanera, 2020). Due to low wages, part-time or temporary work, many Edmontonians work in jobs that do not provide economic security. The current living wage in Edmonton is $18.10 (Edmonton Social Planning Council, 2021). A living wage is a minimum amount that allows families to meet their basic needs and have a basic level of economic security.
Adoption and implementation of benefit-driven procurement policies at all levels of government (Dessanti, 2020). Social procurement can create additional value in purchasing goods and services (Buy Social Canada, 2018). It can encourage companies to improve their equity, diversity and inclusion practices and create job opportunities for people living in poverty.
Women's labour force participation decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic (Statistics Canada, 2020). As a result, targeted workforce development initiatives that identify and address barriers to workforce participation (Dessanti, 2020) will aid in economic recovery.
Health Recovery Strategies
People living in poverty are more vulnerable to COVID-19 exposure and infection than those with more access to financial resources (Whitehead, Taylor-Robinson, and Barr, 2021). For example, people working low-wage or precarious jobs are at a greater risk of COVID-19 exposure in their workplace than those with the privilege to work from home. Many people living in poverty reside in overcrowded housing, reducing their ability to isolate themselves from others if ill and increasing the overall risk of infection (St. Denis, 2020). Finally, some communities and groups face difficulties accessing health care, including people with disabilities, LGBTQQIP2SAA+ people, and Black and Indigenous communities (Paremoer et al., 2021). Several economic recovery strategies outlined below would contribute to addressing these inequities.
Improve government workplace protections, including regulations to ensure safety for essential workers (often, low-wage, female, or non-salaried workers) and access to paid sick leave (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2020). Many people cannot afford to stay home if sick, and regulations would help to address this issue.
Increase the availability of affordable housing through government investment, address unaffordable rents and increase supportive housing options (Sultana & Stepic Lue, 2021). Access to affordable housing that is suitable and adequate for the number of people living there will decrease health risks and reduce the risk of homelessness.
Address disparities in access to health care for vulnerable communities by developing and implementing policies, programs, and services that support people experiencing poverty and other vulnerabilities (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2020).
Social Recovery Strategies
The COVID-19 pandemic has differential effects depending on identities such as race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, dis(ability), and immigration status. Consequences of this public health crisis are felt more significantly by women, people of colour, and members of the LGBTQQIP2SAA+ community due to systemic inequalities like poverty and racism (Sultana, & Ravanera, 2020). Strategies that may help to address these inequities and promote an inclusive economic recovery include:
Collecting and analyzing race-based and disaggregated data can help address these systemic inequalities (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2020).
Recovery strategies and policy development should incorporate an intersectional lens. Intersectionality is the consideration of how aspects of social identity create advantages and disadvantages for members of a social group (Sultana, & Ravanera, 2020).
Centring voices of people with lived and living experiences of poverty in recovery planning. These voices need to be included and valued in decision-making about economic recovery at all levels of government. Their knowledge will help move toward an economy for all (Sultana, & Ravanera, 2020; Dessanti, 2020).
As we move forward into an economic recovery, we need to address the interrelated economic, health, and social impacts of COVID-19 for people living in poverty. Municipalities like Edmonton will play a key role in supporting an equitable recovery for all. This research will provide learnings from the COVID-19 crisis to support the economic recovery of people experiencing poverty in Edmonton and guide EndPovertyEdmonton's future advocacy efforts. The next three blog posts will provide further detail of health, social, and economic recovery strategies.
Janelle Knoop is a Research Assistant with the Community-University Partnership for the Study of Children, Youth, and Families at the University of Alberta. In her role, she conducts poverty-related research and evaluation in partnership with EndPovertyEdmonton. She completed a Master of Arts in Psychology at Carleton University.
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